Author Archives: clairegebben

Wine-tasting with wine princesses

Freinsheim wine princess Anne II

Freinsheim wine princess Anne II

Before arriving in Freinsheim, my cousin Matthias emailed the plans for April 2. “We have tickets for a wine-tasting with the wine princesses from 2-7 Saturday.”

What could this be? Celebrity princesses holding court behind a wine-tasting counter, pouring out sips from jewel-tinted bottles of wine? Not exactly. Here’s how it worked.

The Urlaubsregion Freinsheim (think chamber of commerce, German-style) organizes a wine-tasting to five different villages in and around the region, guided by the wine princesses from each of five villages. Each princess introduces two wines unique to her village. In our case, the tour included: a Riesling and a dry Weisburgunder in Weisenheim am Sand, Viognier and Grauburgunder in Erpolzheim, Chardonnay and Rose in Herxheim, Auxerrois and Cuvée in Weisenheim am Berg, and white and red Spätburgunders (Pinot Noirs) in Freinsheim.

But pictures say it best.

We meet the wine princesses.

We meet the wine princesses.

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We hike to our first wine-tasting, in a forest park at Weisenheim am Sand.

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The wine princesses introduce the vintage and wine-maker.

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We sample our first vintage.

2016 wine-tasting 1

We board the bus for the next village.

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We hike to a pleasant garden among the vineyards.

2016 wine-tasting 4

The wine princess introduces the wine and wine-maker.

2016 wine-tasting 5

Zum wohl!

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Inside the bus.

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Next stop, the Herxheim am Berg Schlossgarten.

2016 wine-tasting 7

Back on the bus …

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… for Weisenheim am Berg …

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… and finish up in Freinsheim.

Viel Spaß!

Viel Spaß!

Making history

In the first decades of my life, I wasn’t a big fan of history. Dwelling on the past? What for? It’s best, I used to say, to look forward, to the future.

Since then, as this blog will attest, I’ve become a huge fan of the experiences and insights of those who have preceded us on this earth. If we’re willing to investigate our past, we learn a great deal to inform us regarding our future.

Which sentiment is not intended to override the importance of making history. In that light, I wish to extend huge applause to a brand new, first ever publication: The Best New British And Irish Poets 2016, judged and edited by Kelly Davio, Series Editor Todd Swift, published this year by Eyewear Publishing.

british and irish poetsThis chorus of new voices, those who have “not yet come under contract to publish their debut full-length poetry collection” at the time of submission for potential inclusion in the anthology, is an inaugural publication for the UK, in the spirit of “best of” anthologies that have been published in America for some time. These poems resonate with the voices of the era, with social engagement, relationships, the tough issues of 21st century lives, and ongoing dialogue with poets of the ages.

A recommended, delightful read. Cheers to history in the making.

Delighted

Spread the word! I’m delighted to announce that for the entire month of February the ebook of my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths is just $.99. Purchase through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or Amazon.

Coffeetown Press is also featuring an interview with me on their website here.
meet the author

It’s also a pleasure to note that I continue to receive invitations to speak about writing, German genealogy, and more. For a list of my talk topics, click here. These presentations are a time for me to share the wealth of tips and info I picked up while writing my novel, and I love hearing your stories as well.

All the best in your writing and family history adventures.

Writing retreats and 21st century blacksmiths

I’m on Whidbey Island again for a writers residency. For MFA students (the program from which I’m a 2011 graduate), it’s a nine-day, intensive writing start to the 16 week spring semester. For non-MFA students like myself, it’s an opportunity to advance our skills, and connect with other writers in a vibrant community.

Case in point, I stood in the dinner line last night with poet Gary Lilley, the new poetry faculty at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program.

Somehow the conversation got around to blacksmithing (as it inevitably seems to, based on the subject of my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths). I mentioned how, while I was writing the novel, I came across an article about how blacksmiths are still hired by the City of New York maintenance department — one of their jobs being to forge basketball hoops for city parks.

This morning I googled New York City blacksmiths to verify what I remembered, and located the article. It appeared in 2010 in The New York Times here. What I’d missed in the ensuing years is that one of the four NYC positions for blacksmiths became vacant in 2014, a job that pays an annual salary of just over $100K. The write-up about the opening appears in the Brooklyn Magazine here. (Sorry I didn’t know back then, or I would have spread the word.)

As we talked, I learned that Gary has personal experience with these NYC custom-made hoops. An expression crossed his face I’ve seen often at writing conferences and retreats — the expression of a writer inspired. He confessed a poem had started to come to him. I completely understood.

It’s what makes these gatherings of writers so vital, where words and rhythms clang and vibrate like ghetto rims, called into being from the mysterious workings of language and the mind.

Scottish cookery

scottish cookeryLucky me, at the Friends of the Library book sale, I found Claire Macdonald’s Scottish Cookery. It’s a small booklet of 30 pages, with gorgeous photos of Scottish standards, including “Cullen Skink” (Finnan haddock soup), “Clootie Dumpling” (fruit pudding steamed in cloth), and Herrings in Oatmeal, “one of the most traditional meals in Scotland.”

Here’s a recipe in Scottish Cookery for dressing up turnips and potatoes.

Clapshot

Serves 4
1 lb floury potatoes, peeled and diced
1 lb yellow turnip, peeled and cut up
5 Tbsp single cream or 5 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp snipped chives
salt and black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg

Boil the potato and turnip in separate pans for 20 minutes, until tender. Drain them, return them to the pan, and shake them over the heat to dry. Mash thoroughly until smooth. Mix in cream or butter, and chives, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Continue to mash over the heat. Serve immediately. Apparently, south of the boarder Clapshot is called “swede.”

skirlie

Tips for family history albums

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“The New Bonnet” 1858 by Francis William Edmond, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY

Two weekends ago, I gave a session at the Write on the Sound Conference in Edmonds called “For the Record,” about ways to write about and publish your family history. A popular approach is to design a “family history album” online. Many sites will assist with genealogy “scrapbooks” or family history albums. A few links to vendors are found on Cyndis list here.

"The Power of Music" 1847, William Sidney Mount Cleveland Art Museum

“The Power of Music” 1847, William Sidney Mount
Cleveland Art Museum

Additional options for creating an album: Snapfish, Shutterfly, and my friend David Williams’s favorite Magcloud. These companies provide design templates and instructions for uploading text, photos and graphics to create your personal album. At Magcloud, you can give relatives and friends the option of downloading the digital book for free, and/or buying a hard copy edition for a pretty fair price.

"The Penny Wedding" 1819 by Alexander Carse The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

“The Penny Wedding” 1819 by Alexander Carse
The Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Regarding graphics, the choices for visuals become slimmer before the invention of photography, first accessible to middle-class families in the mid-1800s. These days we’re so reliant on photography we tend to forget a very helpful alternative. Paintings. Before the camera, painters were the portrayers of everyday life. I’ve found that many art museums allow non-flash photos, so whenever I’m doing research I bring along my camera.

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“Return from the Church Fair” circa 1859-1860 by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller Old National Gallery in Berlin

If you do include a photo of a painting in your album, it’s helpful to include a caption noting the title, the artist and year, and the museum where you snapped the picture. How do you get all that detail down? Photograph the painting first, then follow that up with a photo of the label next to it for later reference.

Honestly, I didn’t think of this resource myself — my writing friend Michele Genthon pointed it out. Thanks, Michele. In this post, I’ve included just a few of the many paintings by artists who have brilliantly captured life in former times.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County Genealogy resources

Recently, I bumped into the website Cleveland and its Neighborhoods, which has a wealth of “History, Genealogy, and Other Peripheral Subjects pertaining to Cleveland, Ohio” compiled by Laura Hine. It’s an incredibly comprehensive resource, one that didn’t readily pop up during my novel research, so I thought I’d give it a shout out here.

cleve neighbors

At the bottom of the “Cleveland and Its Neighborhoods” home page is another link to Hine’s sister site: “just about everything that you need to know about doing genealogy research in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.” Tips and go-to topics include: Births, Deaths, Suburbs that maintain their own Birth and Death Certificates, Obituaries, Funeral Homes, Marriages, Cemeteries, Catholic Church records, Useful Cuyahoga County Websites, Other Cuyahoga County Genealogy Collections, Property Deeds – Recorder’s Office, Cuyahoga County Audito, Courts in Cuyahoga County, Cuyahoga County Probate Court Estate Case Files – Index and Images, Cuyahoga County Naturalization Records, Census, City Directories, Maps and Atlases, Military, Newspapers, Schools, Taxes and Voter Information.

Salivating yet? Access this info by clicking here: Frequently Asked Questions For Genealogy Research in Cuyahoga County

Thanks, Laura–you’re officially my Cuyahoga County genealogy maven!

Abroad and at home

This May, I had the privilege of visiting the Archives Research Centre in Inverness, where I took a peak at Croy Parish Church registers. The Kirk, as it was known in those days. Unlike modern church sessions (at least, those of the mainline denominations with which I’m familiar), these Kirk sessions included provincial trials of misdeeds such as fist-fighting on the Sabbath.

Here’s an excerpt from one such record:

Croy July 13 1740 James Mitter Gardiner in [Cabrach] & Margaret Gordon in Mitten Delated for undecent correspondence are appointed to be cited to our next meeting of the Elders appointed to enquire into the grounds of such report. …
Croy July 20th 1740 Compeard James Mitter & Margaret Gordon & refusing their keeping any undecent correspondence the Elders were enquired if they searched into the grounds of such report & answered that they found there was such a flagrant story passing at that part of the Parish but that after diligent search they could find no ground for it. Closed with prayer.

Can you imagine such a meeting of sessions at a mainline church today? People might actually turn out for the show. Strange words appear in the text: Delated. Compeard. Then again, it’s fortunate I didn’t have to decipher them from Gaelic.

“Delate” does appear in the Merriam-Webster, an archaic word that means to denounce or accuse. Not so the word “compeard.” Perhaps it is dialect? I don’t believe it is a misreading of the handwriting–here’s a sample of transcribed text of another such record I found in Google books:
book scots regional dialect

Back home, I found another tidbit of Scots 18th century history in the oddest place — the Genealogical Abstracts from Newspapers of the German Reformed Church 1830-1839, collected by Barbara Manning.
book genealogical abstracts
In an abstract from the Weekly Messenger of the German Reformed Church dated Aug. 9, 1837, is the following:

//LONGEVITY. RICHARD TAYLOR, the oldest pensioner in Chelsea Hospital England, died on the 10th of June, aged 104. He was a drummer boy at the battle of Culloden in 1745; his last action was that of Alexandria in Egypt where SIR RALPH ABERCROMBIE fell. //

Other than the fact that the Battle of Culloden occurred in 1746, let’s give this the benefit of the doubt and assume the rest is correct. The announcement tells me several things. First, that Richard Taylor was most likely a drummer boy for the British side of that engagement. Second, that if Taylor did live 104 years, he was a drummer boy in the King’s service at the young age of 13 years. Third, back in the day the Battle of Culloden was so well known that the editors of  this small German denominational newspaper in the U.S. felt this news from England worthy of note. Yet today, many people I talk with have never heard of Culloden.

Stumps in the road

When it comes to historical research, it’s all too easy to follow one thread, then another, until progress slows to the pace of a journey by horse and wagon in the 18th century.

Ohio near St Clairsville 2015

Ohio near St. Clairsville, 2015

Currently, in my studies of Scots immigrants to Ohio, I’m on the trail of pre-canal, pre-railroad travel. Via interlibrary loan, I’ve checked out a copy of Margaret Van Horn Dwight’s diary, published under the title “A Journey to Ohio in 1810.” A delightful account of an arduous trip delayed again and again, due to weather, flooding rivers, and a horse too exhausted to go on. Margaret and her companions were traveling from New Haven, Connecticut to Warren, Ohio. Below is a sample entry:

“Thursday night — Allegany (sic) Mtn Nov– 16 [1810]
We have had a warm & pleasant day till towards night, when it began to rain, as it has done every day for a fortnight — we are now at a tavern half a mile from the top of the Allegany Mt- this Mountain is 14 miles over- At the highest part of it is a most beautiful prospect of mountains- 5 or 6 ridges one after the other- … I pick’d a sprig of ivy from the top, which … came from the very backbone of America, as they all tell us — We have walk’d a great deal to day, & indeed we are oblig’d to every day, for the whole country seems one continued mtn…”

Because of the steep terrain, to spare the horse, Margaret and her companions climbed the mountains on foot, walking next to the wagon.

Another route over the Allegheny Mountains started out of Baltimore, Maryland. By the end of the 1700s, this road reached well into the Northwest Territory (present-day Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana). The first leg of the route from Baltimore went to Uniontown, Pennyslvania, a road cut in the 1750s by General Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian War. The second leg, Gist’s trace, was cut by white trader Thomas Cresap and his friend the Delaware Chief Nemacolin, and stretched from explorer Gist’s plantation in Uniontown as far as the Monongahela River at present-day Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

The third leg was cut by Ebenezer Zane around 1796. Called Zane’s Trace, it was a narrow, clumsily cut path through giant trees of the Ohio wilderness. Eventually, Zane’s trace extended from present-day Wheeling, West Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky. As the trees were felled by Zane’s men, the story goes, little care was taken about the tree stumps. As a result, wagons sometimes high-centered on stumps, or got stuck between them. It’s said that Zane’s Trace is where people first used the expression “to get stumped,” as in, stuck and going nowhere.

Huh. I know the feeling. Time for me to get off my research duff and start writing.

Trips end

Chambers Bay Golf Course

Chambers Bay Golf Course

We’re back home in Seattle, where the U.S. Open golf tournament is about to begin.

What a trip, beginning with chill and blustery Scotland, continuing in warmer, drizzling Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and concluding in Freinsheim Germany with a heat wave.

altstadtfest in Freinsheim

Reformed Evangelical Protestant Church tower in the center of Freinsheim

And with plenty of toasts at the Freinsheimer Altstadtfest. To close, below are just a few photos and memories.

Cheers!

cheers

The Altstadtfest runs for three days. We only lasted one (because our flight left early on day 2, naturally).

croft on the battlefield at Culloden

Croft on the Culloden battlefield

bicycles at the central train station in Amsterdam

Bicycles in Amsterdam, at the Centraal train station

bird magpie

European magpie

couple at restaurant

Piet de Leeuw on Noorderstraat in Amsterdam, a restaurant that serves horse. (No, we didn’t try any.)